Sunday, August 21, 2011

Florence, Italy

Florence is one of those places that everyone tells you is a MUST see.  Whenever I mentioned going to Italy, 50% of the time I would get a "oh-my-god-YOU-HAVE-TO-VISIT-FLORENCE!"  It was usually in a throaty whisper of desperation that sounded like they were going to hijack my plane ticket and go in my place.  Long story short, we added Florence to the itinerary and headed there after our stop in Bologna. 

As this anecdote implies, Florence is a popular place.  When hunting around for a hostel, we were having a really hard time finding one in our budget (we liked to stay around or under 30 Euro per night per person) that had decent reviews.  There were a lot of camping options as well, but I was a bit leery.  So we booked one hostel with so-so reviews, and planned to stay additional nights if we liked the place.

We easily found the hostel when we arrived in Florence in early evening.  It seemed nice, but the customer service was lacking.  We put our stuff down in our room and I took advantage of the free computer (rarity!!) to get in touch with family members and friends.  Alex began to make friends, and soon we were out on the town with 3 Australian guys for dinner and a walk around Florence.
My super comfy bed at Emerald Hostel

Alex's bed (blue)
After enjoying some red wine, a brief introduction to Florence by night, and a fun, local-filled plaza, Alex and I wandered back to the hostel to find where we'd be staying the following night (check out was 10 am, so we wanted to figure that our sooner rather than later).

Oops, the computers were literally taken away when the front desk shut down (it was after midnight when we returned, so that is understandable).  We went to bed without much of a plan for the next day.

I woke up early and asked the front desk if we could stay additional nights.  Bad news: they were booked.  This was a bummer because it means they got booked overnight, because I had seen openings online the day before.  So, we decided to go with Camping PLUS Florence.  I was a little apprehensive, but it had great reviews and the price was amazing (15 Euro per person per night for a private, locking tent!).  I booked our reservations on the then-available computers, had breakfast (provided by the hostel), and we made our way to the campsite.

Immediatley, I was quite impressed.  It wasn't nearly as far away from the city as I had feared (it would be a ~15-20 minute walk to the Duomo).  The views were impressive of the city, and it was set in an olive grove.  Trust me, I was not complaining.  Plus, the "tents" were quite nice.  They had pergo flooring, bunk beds, and lockable doors.
Our little tent

Complete with more beds than people and a window!

You can't quite see, but nestled in those olive trees are the tents where we stayed.
After settling in, we made our way down to the city via a walking path down the hillside. We decided to work off of our tourists' map and simply walk from site to site.  We spotted some pretty views along the way.
Overlooking Florence from Piazza Michelangelo

A tower on our path to the city from our campsite

A view of ponte vecchio (famous bridge)

Our first destination was Palazzo Pitti and gardens.  It was an old palace converted into museums with phenomenal gardens stretching over hills just outside the city.  Before making it to the palace, we stopped for lunch at a small restaurant off the main drag.  It was quite the gem and had amazing food, was filled with locals, and the right prices!
The inside of our cozy lunch spot

The daily menu, written each morning.  On the left was Florentine steak, on the right was a collection of 2 course pasta/meat courses

Steak with salad and pasta alla catanese (per the server's suggestion)

After lunch, we walked around Palazzo Pitti and the gardens.
The front of the palace

Coming out of the back of the palace into the gardens

The back of the palace

Walking through the gardens

Palazzo Pitti with Florence in the background

Overlooking the hills surrounding Florence

After seeing the palace, we walked through Florence, snapping pictures of sites:
View of Florence from Ponte Vecchio

Fountain of Poseidon

Walking through the city

The Duomo

The front of the Duomo

Sunset view of the city
After seeing a bit of Florence, finding an Italian buffet (score!), and seeing the sunset, we made our way to our tent for the night.  A raging night club just next door to the campsite made for an amusing lullaby (i.e. Black Eyed Peas), but we were so exhausted we drifted right off. 

The following morning we bought some breakfast foods from the camp market and had a breakfast overlooking the city.
Orange, Lemon, Carrot juice! Yum!

Our view for breakfast
 After breakfast, we walked into the city and began waiting in line to climb all 468 steps to the top of the Duomo.  The line lasted about an hour and a half, but was well worth it.  While climbing to the top, we found ourselves inside the dome standing right next to the intricate frescoes. 
Inside of the Duomo
 After seeing the inside of the Duomo, we continued to the top of the cupola for the breathtaking view of Florence. 
View from the top of the Duomo

More views
 We continued our day by visiting an internet cafe to plan more of our trip, wandering around shops, and eating pizza.  We returned to our tent exhausted.  While recuperating from our long walk, we began to hear a loud DJ.  We knew there was a night club nearby, but the way he was speaking (at times in English) was not typical jargon for dancing.  Rather, it sounded like instructions.  We figured there must be a fitness class being held nearby.  When we wandered up to Piazza Michelangelo for the sunset we stumbled upon a large-scale spinning class.  As a spin fan, I was quite excited, and even a bit jealous of this awesome set up for cycling. 
Spin-a-thon at Piazza Michelangelo
 After admiring the sping-a-thon, we snagged some food from their buffet.  We are pretty sure this was food reserved for the spinners, but no one seemed to mind that we were helping ourselves... (we were on a budget, a tight budget!) We then made our way to a set of stone stairs, that were quite warm from the sun, and watched the sun go down with a hundred or so other tourists.  When the sun finally set, applaud broke out.  I still don't know how I feel about applauding the sun setting, it felt a bit like applauding when the plane lands, or a movie ends... But nonetheless, it was beautiful.  We settled into bed and packed for our departure the next morning.
Sunset over Florence

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